Paul Sebron smiles because he smells like smoke again.
Smoke means his grill is working, which means he is earning money.
Paul Sebron, owner of Mr. Pig and Stenger's Cafe on Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine, poses Tuesday, March 26, 2002, outside his restaurant. Photo by Craig Ruttle
He covers the juicy rib tips on the grill and leaves the chilly air of the parking lot near a corner of Vine and Benton streets to walk inside his restaurant, Stenger’s Cafe & Mr. Pig’s, Too. He peels off one of the three jackets he’s wearing and sits.
‘‘I was excited when we took this place over,’’ he says, looking at the handful of tables covered with red-checkered cloths. ‘‘And I’m still excited.’’
That’s saying a lot, considering what’s happened. Mr. Sebron took over Stenger’s — a restaurant with a half-century tradition of mock turtle soup, sauerbraten and meatloaf — last March 15, less than a month before the April riots. Unrest, curfews and fear quickly slashed his sales. The same conditions also chased customers from Mr. Pig’s, a takeout barbecue business at Findlay Market that he had operated since 1995.
Then things got worse.
In October, Cincinnati’s Health Department shut down Mr. Sebron’s Findlay Market operation because an inspector declared his building, which he leased from the city, unfit. A month later, he closed Stenger’s temporarily to straighten out a liquor license dispute.
‘‘I lost my house,’’ says the 49-year-old Kennedy Heights man, speaking over the gospel music playing in the restaurant. ‘‘It’s in foreclosure right now.’’
But his grill is smoking again. More than 60 people — of all colors — came to Stenger’s reopening March 11, and business has been encouraging since. Mr. Sebron received a $50,000 emergency loan to pay overdue bills, and he’s hopeful he will qualify for a $250,000 loan from the Cincinnati Empowerment Corp. With the money, Mr. Sebron plans to buy the old Mr. Pig’s building at Findlay, renovate and reopen it as a restaurant with indoor and courtyard seating.
Things might have worked out differently for him if not for last April’s events. But he’s willing to look ahead.
‘‘They used to tell me in church there’s always a sun behind those clouds,’’ he says, with another smile.
Faces of Over-the-Rhine
Restaurant owner Paul Sebring
Taft senior Darrel Shields
Social worker Angela Coleman
Sarah Center director Sister Jeanette Buehler
Jordanian grocer Taraq T.A. Adwani
Filmmaker Steve Gebhardt
Gallery owner Suzanna Terril
Beauty shop supplier Chong Kim
Teacher's aide Kemberley Alexander
Waitress Karla Davis
Teacher Sharon Brooks
Dock worker Leo Sneed
Police officer Michael Ammann
Soup kitchen manager Denise McPherson
Artist Joseph M. Winterhalter
Janitor Latrell Walker
Fund-raiser Torren "T.J." Partridge
School social worker Joe Wilmers
Rehabber Greg Badger
Medical student John Eckman
Treatment counselor Calvin W. Wooten
Photographer Jimmy Heath
Violence up, arrests down
Changes made since April 2001
Q&A with Police Chief Streicher
Q&A with former F.O.P. president Keith Fangman
Neighbor to Neighbor
Community meetings produce results
Going beyond polite silence
What your neighbors said
What do you think?
What's happening in 145 communities
A sampling of communities:
What institutions are doing
Neighbor to Neighbor home page
Matters of Race: Bridging the divide in Greater Cincinnati
On the Same Page Cincinnati
Live Without Hate
Cincinnati 2001: Year of unrest
Unrest in the city: Archive of riot coverage
Unrest photo timeline
Jim Borgman on race